Once again the Bulldogs shot poorly from the field (18-of-51, 35%) but they also played exceptional defense again as LSU made 18-of-46 field goal attempts to shoot 39% from the field. MSU's defense held the LSU Tigers to 27% shooting in the second half and made a couple of crucial steals in the last minute of the game to seal the victory.
"We made plays when we had to make them," said Stansbury. "I think you have to credit our defense. Our defense, no matter how we were playing offensively, has kept us in all of our ball games. During the last minute, we had a couple of big steals in our press that kind of changed the game."
LSU's strategy coming into the game was to stop Mario Austin. Although he made 17 points during the game, LSU held him to 4-of-15 from the field. Austin did his real damage from the free throw line where we was 9-of-10. Austin, in his last five games, has made 32-of-37 from the free throw line for an 87% shooting percentage.
"The LSU staff did an excellent job of preparing their team," said Mississippi State assistant coach Robert Kirby. "They did a good job of jamming Mario everytime he got the ball. It made him rush his shot sometimes. He missed some easy shots but he stepped up to the free-throw line and made some big free throws for us."
While the Tigers were jamming Austin inside, the MSU perimeter players were not doing much better from the outside, shooting just 5-of-21 from the three-point line (23.8%).
"Their plan was to limit (Austin's) touches, play zone and hope we didn't shoot it well,"said MSU head coach Rick Stansbury. "It almost worked because we didn't get him the ball as much as we would have liked to and we didn't shoot as well as we had hoped we would."
The game started off with LSU making a three-pointer by Torris Bright. MSU's Austin would come right back and make a field goal to make the score 3-2.
After going back and forth for the first five minutes of the game, LSU would go on a 8-4 run to make the score 16-11.
The Bulldogs would then go on a run of their own (11-0) to go ahead 22-16 with 7:10 to go on the first half clock. Four different players would score for the Bulldogs during that run (Austin led the way with 4 points.).
LSU, a team that would never give up during the game, made another run, this time 12-4, to go ahead 28-26 with 1:22 to go in the first half.
MSU would turn right around and score the last five points of the half to lead at halftime, 31-28. Derrick Zimmerman, showing good defensive presence, stole the ball at the 29 second mark, then passed it to Ontario Harper who went in for a layup, made the shot and was fouled by LSU's Torris Bright. He would convert the free throw to give the Bulldogs their 31-28 advantage at halftime.
Although he had a poor night shooting the ball, Austin led the Bulldogs with 10 points in the first half.
In the second half, the Bulldogs defense would put the screws on the Tigers and limit them to seven fields, one of which was a three-pointer.
In fact, after the 6:23 minute mark, the Tigers would score just one field goal and one free throw. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs would score 13 of their second half points during that same span to earn their hard fought victory over the Tigers.
One key field goal during that span was a two-pointer made by Marckell Patterson at the 25 second mark with the Bulldogs leading 53-51.
"My team had been looking for me to step up and I took advantage of a great situation," said Patterson. "The defense gave me an opportunity to drive the basketball because they didn't recover well. I was fortunate to make the shot."
While LSU's strategy was to play tight defense on Austin, the Bulldogs also had a gameplan of their own.
"We went into the ball game talking about taking their big three (Dupree, Hudson and Bright) out of the game," said Kirby. "We had to do a good job on those three to keep ourselves in position to win the ball game. To our guys credit, they stepped up defensively and did that on Bright and Dupree. Zimmerman did a good job pressuring Bright and made him make some bad decisions. Michael Gholar and Michael Ignerski did an excellent job guarding Dupree."
Freshman Antonio Hudson led the Tigers with 16 points, while Torris Bright was held to 9 points and Ronald Dupree 8 points. Dupree was averaging 16 points per game coming into the game.
Mario Austin led the Bulldogs with 17 points, but two other Bulldogs made significant contributions. Derrick Zimmerman had 5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, and 1 block shot. Michael Gholar recorded 9 rebounds. He has now had 9 rebounds in three of the last four ball games. He had 8 in the other game.
The Bulldogs now take on the Alabama Crimson Tide at Noon Sunday in the SEC Tournament Championship game.
"Naturally, we left a lot of energy on this floor but we will be playing in a championship game," said Stansbury. "Our team has been very resilient about bouncing back. I think we will be ready to play for that championship."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.